The Best Holiday and NYE Celebrations Around the World
There are so many ways to welcome the festive season’s arrival—and many of them are well worth traveling for. From the twinkling magic of Germany’s traditional Christmas markets (offset by the spooky annual arrival of Krampus) to the song-filled Sankta Lucia Day in Sweden, from Jerusalem’s Hanukkah Torch Relay to New York’s iconic New Year’s Eve Ball Drop, here are seven of the best winter holidays and events that you shouldn’t miss.
While the festive season evokes images of Santa Claus and his merry elves for many, in parts of Austria, Germany, Slovenia, and Croatia, it sees the visitation of another, less benevolent, spirit. Krampus—depicted in centuries-old legend as a grimacing, horned demon—is said to accompany Saint Nicholas on his door-to-door journeys, to punish or abduct naughty children. Today, towns across Europe’s Alpine region (as well as major cities like Munich) host traditional Krampuslaufen—Krampus Runs or Parades—around December 5 each year, during which participants don ornately carved wooden masks and sheepskins as they run around town causing mischief and spooking spectators.
Times Square Ball Drop
New York City
The Times Square Ball Drop has been a beloved Big Apple spectacle since 1907, when the first ball was some 700 pounds and constructed of wood and lightbulbs. Today, the ball is a shimmering geodesic dome of Waterford crystal—and the festivities have been upgraded, too. While you can watch the events unfold live on TV, there’s nothing quite like being in the heart of the action, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of revelers, taking in the live performances and smooching your significant other as the confetti rains down. To secure a prime spot (aim for where Broadway and 7th Avenue intersect for the best views), arrive by mid-afternoon—the schedule of performances usually begins around 6pm.
Hanukkah Torch Relay
Each year, Israel’s Hanukkah festivities get started on an Olympian note with the Hanukkah Torch Relay. Beginning in the city of Modi’in—once home to the Maccabees, with whom the story of the 8-day Hanukkah miracle originated—runners depart carrying a torch all the way to Jerusalem, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) away. Upon its arrival, the menorah on the Western Wall is lit by the chief rabbi to officially mark the holiday’s beginning. If you’re in Jerusalem, don’t forget to join in the celebrations by snacking on sufganiyot (jam-filled donuts) and latkes (potato pancakes or fritters)—and to go on a walking tour of the Old City to take in all the twinkling of the Festival of Lights.
Christmas markets and festivals pop up across the British capital every winter, but none compare, in terms of sheer scale and glitz, with Winter Wonderland. Held from mid-November to early January in Hyde Park, the festival doesn’t just offer ice skating, meet-and-greets with Father Christmas, and chalet-style market shopping—it’s also home to roller-coasters and ice slides, circus performances and a street food village, live music and no shortage of mulled wine (and other beverages sure to warm you). You can visit independently—or book a private walking tour or Christmas lights bike tour to explore in the company of a local guide.
Dresden Christmas Market (Striezelmarkt)
Traditional Christmas markets are found all over Europe, but Dresden’s has a special claim to fame. First held in 1434, the city’s Striezelmarkt is officially the oldest such event in the world, and each year it draws millions of visitors. Held in the city center, the market features hundreds of stalls, luminous displays, a Ferris wheel, traditional crafts, plenty of stollen cake, and much more. Given the size of the event (and the crowds it attracts) you can opt to explore the Striezelmarkt with a private guide for the most accessible visiting experience—or even book an Advent-themed walking tour to learn more about the city’s unique festive traditions.
Sankta Lucia Day
In most countries, St. Lucy’s Day, held on December 13, is a footnote in the leadup to Christmas. But in Sweden, the holiday—known locally as Sankta Lucia Day, or Luciadagen—is nothing short of a mainstay of the festive season. Choral performances are held in churches, as well as on TV and radio, and in a range of civic locations across the country, but they’re united by a single iconography: of singers clad in white robes, accompanied by a nominated Sankta Lucia who has a wreath of candles in her hair. If you’re in Sweden, don’t forget to accompany the celebrations with a classic fika: a coffee break with sweet treats. During the festive season, that means lussekatt (saffron buns) and glögg (mulled wine).
Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul)
Christmas light displays are taken to a whole new level during the Philippines’ Giant Lantern Festival, or Ligligan Parul. Held each year in the city of San Fernando, some 41 miles (66 kilometers) north of the capital of Manila, the mid-December event sees enormous parols, or star lanterns, installed throughout the city. These lanterns can span more than 15 feet (5 meters) wide, and are decorated in rainbow hues and complex patterns, have rotating motor displays, and light up in the darkness. The festival has been an annual tradition for more than a century, and today, different local districts compete each year for the best lanterns.